Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports
As the losses have piled up in recent weeks, with the Gamecocks falling below .500 for the first time this year after the loss to Alabama, some of you may be beginning to question the coaching job that Frank Martin has done with this team. In my opinion, it's no time to panic. John Wooden couldn't have done much with this team.
The fact of the matter is that this team has a handful of players who have been asked to contribute who shouldn't be playing at this level. We knew this was the case at the beginning of the year. After all, only a few players--Bruce Ellington, Lakeem Jackson, and Brenton Williams--who were major contributors to last year's team returned. It was a major blow to lose Damontre Harris and Anthony Gill, both of whom showed legitimate promise under Darrin Horn, as evidenced by their success in transferring to more stable programs. Moreover, while Martin is to be commended for putting together a decent recruiting class with short notice, most of the players he brought in were projects, and the one player who I thought could be a star right away, Thaddeus Hall, didn't qualify. To be honest, the class has turned out better than I expected, given Michael Carrera's quick emergence as a decent option. That said, Carrera is a lanky 6'5 at a position favoring players who are 6'8 or above and ripped. He's limited and should be a role player, yet he's been asked to be one of the team's feature players. This team is seriously devoid of quality talent.
However, the team overachieved a little bit early in the season. The team acquitted itself respectably against mediocre OOC competition, showing a bit of evidence that Martin's coaching might be able to prompt us to do a bit better than expected. We then played generally competitive basketball to open the SEC slate, getting a couple of solid wins against LSU and Arkansas. These wins likely got our hopes up a bit more than they should have.
In hindsight, though, the failure to get more wins out of those close losses probably cost this team quite a bit. Some may see it as an indictment of Martin that the team has gotten worse since those early-season surprises, but the truth is that this is how it often goes with a team like this. They played hard and bought into what Martin was selling early on, but now, after failing to translate that effort into wins, the season is largely academic. To make matters worse, many of them know that they're not going to be asked to return next year, and they've given up. The motivation is no longer there. This is the natural course of events for a team like this. Maybe things would have been a little different if we had won a couple of those close games, but the deck was stacked against that happening. The team managed to keep those games close, but the more talented opponents usually managed to make the plays needed to win the games.
This season isn't the real test for Martin. It would have been fantastic for him to have managed to make something happen with this team, but barring a miracle, that's off the table now. The test for Martin is to build a program where one wasn't before. That's going to require recruiting and getting talented players to buy into his philosophy. Am I sure he's going to succeed? No. He has a great track record, but this is not going to be an easy job. What I do know is that what happens this year has little effect in my mind on his long-term legacy at USC.